The battle for a bullpen spot on the White Sox opening day roster is the most open and competitive in camp.
It appears that the one area where the White Sox have a bevy of talent in the organization is in the bullpen. With the offseason additions of Alex Colome and Kelvin Herrera, the openings available are even less.
Let’s assume the Sox go into the season with a bullpen of eight players as they did last year for the opening day roster. We can safely assume that Colome, Herrera and Nate Jones are on the opening day roster. I’m going to also assume that Manny Banuelos will be on the opening day roster as well, due to the fact that the Sox risk losing him to waivers if he is sent back down to the minors.
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That leaves the White Sox with five openings left in the bullpen. As Jones, Colome and Herrera are all right-handed, that also leaves a couple spots open to left-handed pitchers. I’ll first look at the left-handed options vying for a couple of spots.
The left-handed pitchers that have a chance to break camp with the Sox are as follows:
Jace Fry: In 51 innings with the Sox last year he posted a 4.38 ERA but also had a 2.67 FIP which shows he was the victim of some bad luck on batted balls. His strikeout percentage was over 30 percent while his walk percentage was less than 10 percent. He was also nasty against left-handed hitters last year as lefties batted only .143 against him. While he does have plenty of options left to be sent down, unless he just implodes this spring, Fry would seem to have a hold on one of the bullpen spots.
Caleb Frare: Frare made 11 appearances last year for the Sox. His FIP was 2.73, so that is not bad. Except for one horrible outing where he gave up three of his four total earned runs allowed, he was excellent in his brief tenure. In seven total innings pitched, Frare had four walks and nine K’s. He has a fastball that sits in the mid 90’s with a decent slider as his second pitch.
Aaron Bummer: Bummer pitched in 37 games for the Sox last year and 30 games in 2017 and has the most experience of the three lefties we are profiling. His FIP was 2.40 while striking out 35 and walking 10 in 31.2 innings overall in 2018. Bummer gave up 40 hits in those 31.2 IP as well. He has a fastball that can reach in the mid 90’s with a secondary slider pitch to complement it.
Those three aforementioned pitchers appear to be the main competitors for the lefty late-inning roles in the bullpen. The righty options are much more plentiful with a wide range of guys vying for the remaining three spots or so.
Included in the battle for these spots include guys that pitched on the major league roster last year. These include: Juan Minaya, Thyago Vieira, Ian Hamilton, Carson Fulmer (yes, Fulmer is now in the bullpen mix), Dylan Covey (should he not make it as the fifth starter), converted catcher Jose Ruiz and Ryan Burr. Add to that, players like Jimmy Lambert and Jordan Stephens and it’s a loaded battle for just a few spots. Here’s a small caption on each player:
Juan Minaya: He’s been a fixture in the bullpen for the last few years with varying degrees of success. He can fill in as a long reliever or a righty late so his versatility is a definite advantage for him. In 46.2 IP last year he K’d 58, walked 29 and allowed 39 hits.
Thyago Vieira: He is one of the hardest throwers in the Sox organization. He can hit the high 90’s but his lack of control was an issue as he had a 7.13 ERA last year in 17 innings pitched for the Sox. If he can get that settled down he’ll be another big arm out of the bullpen late. At this point, I think he starts in Charlotte though.
Ian Hamilton: He got his first taste of MLB last year. He is rated as the 16th best prospect in the White Sox organization. He is another of the organization’s big arms that can reach upper 90’s occasionally. Like Frare, Hamilton’s numbers are a little inflated due to one awful outing. He came in to protect a 1-0 lead with two men on and proceeded to hit one batter and then gave up a grand slam last season. Other than that outing, however, he pitched well, giving up only five hits while striking out five in eight total innings pitched.
Carson Fulmer: There’s no need to go over Fulmers failed season as a starter last year. However, this offseason, he’s been reworking on his delivery while working with Driveline, which is a data-driven player development company. He seems to have more confidence and hopes that the results will give him a shot to make the team once again. This time in the bullpen. As the eighth overall selection in the 2015 draft, he’ll be given every opportunity to reclaim his career.
Dylan Covey: I’ll include him here only as a side note if he doesn’t break camp as the fifth starter. Should he get beat out for that role he’ll more than likely be up as a possible long reliever/spot starter.
Jose Ruiz: He’s a project for Don Cooper and the Sox minor league pitching coaches. He is a former catcher in the San Diego Padres organization, who actually are the ones who turned him into a pitcher. The Sox acquired him off waivers from the Padres after they designated him for assignment in the winter of 2017. He has a big arm but lacks control at this point in his development. I expect him to start the year in the minors, perhaps at Double-A Birmingham.
Ryan Burr: He also made his big league debut late last year as he appeared in eight games but struggled after his good first outing. As with many of the arms in the Sox organization, Burr hits mid 90’s and has a tight slider to complement it. He is a big guy at 6’4″ and 225 pounds. He was acquired from the Arizona Diamondbacks in August of 2017 for international bonus pool money. He has a 1.84 ERA for his career in the last three minor league seasons with a K/9 of 11.6.
Stephens and Lambert are both in camp but, as both are still projected as starters. I don’t expect them to be in the bullpen battle this year. Lambert has been receiving high praise early this Spring, however, and it’s always possible one of these two could open some eyes and make it as the fifth starter.
That seems to be at this point all the players involved for the bullpen spots available. Here’s my way too early guess at who will be coming north in March:
And my one surprise…
Fulmer will make it as the long reliever/spot starter as I am leaning toward Banuelos making it as the fifth starter and Covey starting the season with Triple-A Charlotte.
We’ll find out in about six weeks.